Friday Rant: Will the Paralympics Change the World?

It's a tragic story. A five-year-old boy is struck down by meningitis. He very nearly dies. In the end, doctors have to amputate one leg to save him. He takes years to recover, and is left disabled and handicapped for life.

Now another story. I'm watching the TV, feeling genuinely jealous, as a 19-year-old young man is interviewed. He's very good-looking, articulate, focused, charming. He radiates health and energy – not surprisingly, as he's just won an Olympic Gold medal by running 100 metres in under 11 seconds in the T44 event, a new world record. Even in my prime, I would have been about 30 metres behind him in a race.

Of course, you've guessed, it is the same story. Jonnie Peacock from Cambridge, England, won the 100 metres with his "blade runner" prosthetic leg at the Paralympics Games last week.

Readers in the US probably have no idea just how huge the event was in the UK. The Paralympics didn't appear to be a big thing for US TV certainly, and the US was behind the UK, China, Russia, Ukraine and Australia in the medal table. To be fair, most of us in the UK originally saw it as a not very exciting add-on to the "real" Olympics, but something remarkable happened over the last few weeks.

First, the huge success of the Olympics encouraged people to get tickets for the Paralympics, so events were held in front of sell-out crowds (who, if anything, were even noisier than in the conventional event). 80,000 people watched the athletics, and the swimming arena was packed and apparently ear-burstingly loud. And the cheers were as loud for the severely disabled swimmers – whose progress is slow but incredibly impressive – as for those who could compete at high levels against anyone.

TV ratings were way beyond expectations, and a nightly show hosted by a Aussie comedian with a prosthetic foot (Adam Hills) became a cult hit as it encouraged us to see the funny side of disabled sport, and presented the athletes as people with ambitions, hopes (and bad tempers at times) rather than different or to be pitied.

Apart from leading to regular lump in the throat moments over the 11 days of the event, has it changed attitudes? I really think it might – "being disabled is now cool" as a Times journalist, Melanie Reid, herself paraplegic after a fall from a horse, put it. Maybe that's a bit overly hopeful. Certainly I see more chance of the Paralympics proving genuinely transformational in some way. Compared to the London Olympics, which is already seeming a bit like a very pleasant but ultimately meaningless dream, vaguely recalled...

Anyway, the Paralympics also made me think about procurement-related implications. My feeling is that a lot of our work around encouraging diversity in the supply chain is a bit half-hearted or "box-ticking" in nature. The last two weeks should make us think about the potential in a lot of people who we might not, at first sight, consider as athletes, suppliers or amazing co-workers. Can and should we do more to promote this diversity?

And if you haven't seen this clip before, you in for a treat. One of the most amazing table tennis shots ever played, let alone by a guy who needs a stick to help him walk...

- Peter Smith

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